Boston Bruins

Haggerty: Wheels begin to turn on Bruins' summer improvement plan

Haggerty: Wheels begin to turn on Bruins' summer improvement plan

With June upon us, now is the time for Don Sweeney and the Bruins to step up the efforts to improve a roster that still has some significant holes.

Sure, the B’s were good enough to make the playoffs, and even have a handy alibi of injuries as to why things went wrong for them in the first round against the Senators. Still, Bruins management and scouting staff were quick to recognize following the season that they need to ice a better, deeper group as they look to make another step forward.

MORE BRUINS

“We have a lot of work to do as an organization, still. We want to become a deeper, more talented team from top to bottom,” said Bruins GM Don Sweeney at his end-of-season press conference in April. “Taking one step forward, in my opinion, is not successful. It’s a good step, but we have work to do in a lot of areas that we want to continue to get better.”

A top-six left wing capable of scoring some goals, preferably with some size, is definitely a need alongside David Krejci. A top-four, left-shot defenseman suitable to potentially be paired with 19-year-old Charlie McAvoy is another big ticket item on Sweeney’s summer shopping list. Chances are the Bruins might just see what they have in Anders Bjork, Danton Heinen and Jake DeBrusk for the open winger spot when training camp opens. Perhaps being paired with established offensive performers David Krejci and David Pastrnak could open up some scoring space for one of those young forwards and mitigate the need to go searching for somebody such as Colorado captain Gabriel Landeskog.

Let’s assume that a top-four, left-shot defenseman is the top priority outside the organization. Clearly, the re-signing of Pastrnak to a suitable second contract stands as the most important thing Sweeney will do between now and October. This should be the right offseason for Sweeney to get something done with Sami Vatanen, Matthew Dumba, Jonas Brodin and Tyson Barrie, to name just a few, potentially available on the trade market for the right price.    

With Vatanen, Dumba and Barrie all right-hand shots with McAvoy and Brandon Carlo locked in as top-four, righty D-men for the foreseeable future in Boston, Brodin seems like a clear person of interest for the Black and Gold.

One hockey source indicated to CSNNE there should be attention paid to the ongoing trade discussions between the Bruins and Wild for a couple of reasons. Those talks first started leading up to this past season’s trade deadline. The 23-year-old Brodin Is a left-shot D-man with cost certainty signed for four more years at $4.166 million and has been a top-four defenseman for the Wild since breaking into the league as a teenager. The 6-foot-1, 194-pound Brodin is coming off a career-high 25 points, while also averaging a career-low 19:34 of ice time, and has settled in as a solid, two-way D-man who's never going to dazzle anybody with his workmanlike skill set.

Brodin can move the puck skillfully enough, he can defend and he can play in any situation, but he’s never going to light it up with a 50-point season and will battle through his share of injuries: He’s only once played more than 71 regular-season games in five NHL seasons.

That’s exactly the kind of solid, steady, young veteran the Bruins could use alongside a budding, special talent in McAvoy. Brodin would fit in with Boston’s salary cap structure as well. On the Minnesota side, there are indications around the hockey world the Wild want to get back into the first round after shipping their first rounder (No. 23 overall) to the Coyotes in exchange for Martin Hanzal at the trade deadline.

The Bruins still have their first-round pick at the 18th spot and Sweeney made no mystery about his willingness to discuss dealing that pick when talking to reporters at last weekend’s NHL prospect combine.

“It’s an effort to try and improve our hockey club,” said Sweeney to reporters in Buffalo last weekend. “We have had a number of selections the last couple of years and we feel that they’ll all materialize into very good players for the Boston Bruins and I wouldn’t be doing my job if I didn’t explore what could improve our hockey club now in the shorter term.

“I owe it to our players and the organization to continue to do that. Whether or not it happens, I don’t know. Some people have looked at me sideways at times when holding three first-rounders [in 2015] and not being able to do something at that point in time. The right deal didn’t take place. I can’t say that it’s going to at this time as well, but it’s certainly an area I’ve looked at that if we can improve, then we would move it.”

The best way for the Wild to do that would be to dangle one of their defensemen while clearing off some cap space with big paydays coming this summer for Minnesota restricted free agents Mikael Granlund and Nino Niederreiter. It will be interesting to see what a package centered on Boston’s first-round pick and restricted free agent Ryan Spooner could net for the Black and Gold as the B’s clearly would like to move the speedy, creative power-play specialist this summer. Part of the Bruins’ sell job to get center prospect Jakob Forsbacka Karlsson signed last spring was strong indications he’d be in the NHL this season. That would mean the writing is on the wall for Spooner, 25, a talented, inconsistent third-line center who might just need a change of scenery.

It’s no coincidence the Bruins have been one of the best PP teams in the NHL the past two seasons with Spooner working the half-wall on their top unit.  

Sources have indicated Spooner’s name has been discussed leading up to this month’s Vegas expansion draft and that “the interest is out there” for a center who averaged 12 goals and 44 points the past two seasons. That doesn’t mean he’ll absolutely be moved prior to the expansion draft, but it would appear that Spooner is one of the pieces in play for the Black and Gold as fortify their roster for next season.

Sweeney is going to have to eventually execute a good hockey trade or two if he truly wants the Bruins to rise to a different level in the next couple of seasons and it sounds as if the pieces are starting to move to try and make that happen this summer. 

Bruins prospects Zboril, Senyshyn and McIntyre among camp cuts

bruins_zane_mcintyre_102616.jpg

Bruins prospects Zboril, Senyshyn and McIntyre among camp cuts

BRIGHTON, Mass – The Bruins had waited and gave a long look before making their first substantial cuts in training camp, but they have done that after Saturday’s mistake-filled preseason loss to the Detroit Red Wings.

The timing clearly had more to do with the opening of Providence Bruins on Monday morning than a lifeless performance in the preseason, but it feels like for some players that their underperformance on Saturday led to them being cut from NHL camp.  Youngsters Anton Blidh, Colby Cave, Jesse Gabrielle, Justin Hickman, Zane McIntyre, Zach Senyshyn and Jakub Zboril have all been sent to P-Bruins camp for its start on Monday morning, and they’ll be joined by fellow camp participants Chris Breen, Connor Clifton, Taylor Doherty, Colton Hargrove and Chris Porter that were in Boston’s camp on minor league contracts. McIntyre gave up four goals in the loss to the Red Wings before getting pulled in favor of Malcolm Subban for the third period, and talented young first-round talents Senyshyn and Zboril both showed in camp that they still need some development time in the AHL.

Bruins head coach Bruce Cassidy went through the performances of a number of young B’s prospects in camp following Sunday’s practice, and slightly ahead of Sunday night’s announcement of substantial training camp cuts.

“We were hoping that we’d see the [young guys] separate themselves in camp, and we’re seeing some of them doing that,” said Cassidy, with young B’s prospects like Anders Bjork, Jake DeBrusk and Danton Heinen fitting into that category. “Let’s use [Saturday night’s] game as an example. [DeBrusk] is a young guy in that position and he had two or three good chances in tight and just part of that is finishing now. [Heinen] has had some pretty good games where he’s made some plays and scored. Bjork has been dynamic at times.  

“[Ryan Fitzgerald] has played well. [Gabrielle] has had his moments even though he lost his discipline a little bit the other night. JFK has been a tough one to evaluate being injured, so hopefully he’s ready to go later this week. We’re getting good mileage out of those guys, but we’re going to be playing against stronger lineups so the task gets a little more challenging. On the back end [Grzelcyk] has played in three games and he’s done some good things with puck-moving. He’s just trying to close quicker and do the things we’re asking him to do. [Robbie] O’Gara has been more consistent in his all-around game than maybe Zboril or [Jeremy] Lauzon where it’s all new to them. But we didn’t really expect those guys to come in on the back end and dominate. It’s about playing well, being consistent and getting better.”

Young B’s players like Grzelcyk, O’Gara and Lauzon are still hanging around in camp along with JFK as well, so their NHL audition continues as some of their peers get busy on their development in Providence starting this week. 

CSNNE SCHEDULE

Haggerty: Right fit for Backes one of camp's lingering mysteries

bruins_david_backes_121216.jpg

Haggerty: Right fit for Backes one of camp's lingering mysteries

BRIGHTON, Mass – With the start of Providence Bruins camp bearing down on Monday, the Boston Bruins know their NHL training camp numbers will be thinning out very shortly. That won’t change some pretty established forward combinations that head coach Bruce Cassidy has been working with throughout camp thus far.

Brad Marchand and Patrice Bergeron have skated together consistently as they obviously should as one of the league’s most lethal duos, and they’ve been teamed with rookie Anders Bjork at right wing pretty consistently through camp. David Krejci and David Pastrnak have also been linked together for every practice, game and drill since the 21-year-old Pastrnak signed his new six-year contract, and it’s been rookie Jake DeBrusk with them for most of camp.
Matt Beleskey finished the night in Detroit with Krejci and Pastrnak, and one begins to wonder if that’s where the established, 28-year-old Beleskey finds himself when the regular season begins.

That may or may not change after the young left winger was taken off their line in Saturday night’s preseason debacle in Detroit, but the point stands that Krejci and Pastrnak are expected to be on the same line to start the season. The same would seem to be the case with Riley Nash and Noel Acciari as fourth liners that really established themselves toward the end of last season, and have had Tim Schaller and Jesse Gabrielle cycle through as candidates.

That leaves the Bruins third line where the choices aren’t quite as easy for Cassidy, and where there are several different options for the Bruins coaching staff. Ryan Spooner and David Backes played together an ample amount of time last season, and would seem to be a good combo where their very different strengths can complement each other. Sean Kuraly and Backes would certainly give the Bruins a big, bruising, North/South third line dimension, and showed how effective they could be in the first round of the playoffs against the Ottawa Senators.

Jakob Forsbacka Karlsson got some early looks with Backes as well, but it seems a foregone conclusion he'll start in the AHL after getting dinged up earlier this week in preseason action. Backes hasn’t been shy about his preference to see where this combo could take them given his preference for a bit of old school smash-mouth hockey.

“It depends on usage, and that conversation has yet to be had. Are we going to be a checking line that’s going to get the matchup against the other team’s top line, or if we’re going to roll three lines that can responsibly play against any line then the makeup of [the line] changes a little bit,” said Backes. “I think another big body to get pucks in and have that grind really wearing things down, and kind of setting things up for the line after us, is first and foremost on my mind.

“I think there are certainly plays to be made on entrances, but there’s a lot of times when there’s not. But starting up that grind game that’s there at times, the more often it’s there the better we are. It can be overwhelming for teams to have to be in their end for minutes on end, and get a fresh line change, while you’re still in the offensive zone. That’s how goals are created that aren’t made on the rush. In the second half of the game [against the Red Wings] with JFK not feeling so hot, Sean Kuraly and myself felt pretty good with his speed, his ability and just the unselfish type of “let’s go in here and grind” to make space for the other guys. I don’t know how it all sorts out or if they’ve A, B, C and D type of choices, but there’s still a great deal of camp. So hopefully that all gets sorted out, so we’re able to build chemistry with whoever it is.”

There are other pieces to be worked in like Frank Vatrano or possibly Beleskey if both of Boston’s rookie wingers stick on the NHL roster, but it would seem that the Bruins are facing a major philosophical decision with their third line after bringing Spooner back into the fold. Do they go big, strong and “crash and bang” with Kuraly and Backes, or do the Bruins try to amp up Backes’ offensive production as trigger man with Ryan Spooner setting him as a speedy, skilled playmaker?

“[Kuraly and Backes] enjoy playing together, and in the playoffs they had some level of success,” said Cassidy of Backes, who finished with an underwhelming 17 goals and 38 points in his first season with the Bruins. “At some point we have to get a look at that. Noel was in that mix. Do we want to add skill on the left side if Kuraly is in to complement them, or do we want kind of three North/South guys? Those are the things that training camp is going to answer. It’s difficult because if you’re building a heavier line, and you’ve also got a Ryan Spooner who is more of a skill guy with Vatrano speed. Now the questions will come what’s your third line? We’re going to do whatever is best to suit the team, and we’ll number the lines as we see fit afterward.

“But I think it’s important that Backes has the right type of chemistry player [on his line]. We’ve addressed the top two with Krejci and [Pastrnak] and Bergie and Marchand, so now we’ve got to find the proper fit for Backes for him to be an effective player for us. He’s a very good hockey player and we’ve got to make sure he plays with people that complement his game too.”

So what would this humble hockey writer do if he were making the hockey decisions?

Probably start Spooner with Backes and Vatrano on the third line to start the season given Spooner’s considerable talent on the power play, and what’s been a bit more determined effort to battle for one-on-one pucks in the preseason. There’s no harm in potentially keeping Kuraly as the 13th forward on the NHL roster, and then going to him if A) Spooner falls back into previous bad habits or B) the B’s coaching staff determines they need more of a punishing fore-check presence as they did mid-streak against the Sens in the playoffs.

It may not be perfect and the surplus of third line bodies may result in an early season trade given the need around the NHL for talented bottom-six centers, but the Bruins need to do whatever is necessary to consistently squeeze more production and quality shifts out of that group, and particularly out of Backes, this season. 

CSNNE SCHEDULE